DNA testing for jobs may be on its way, warns Gartner

There may be a future where genetics informs hiring and promotions

ORLANDO, Fla. -- It is illegal today to use DNA testing for employment, but as science advances its understanding of genes that correlate to certain desirable traits -- such as leadership and intelligence -- business may want this information.

People seeking leadership roles in business, or even those in search of funding for a start-up, may volunteer their DNA test results to demonstrate that they have the right aptitude, leadership capabilities and intelligence for the job.

This may sound farfetched, but it's possible based on the direction of the science, according to Gartner analysts David Furlonger and Stephen Smith, who presented their research at the firm's Symposium IT/xpo here. This research is called "maverick" in Gartner parlance, meaning it has a somewhat low probability and is still years out, but its potential is nonetheless worrisome to the authors.

It isn't as radical as it seems. Job selection on the basis of certain desirable genetic characteristics is already common in the military and sports. The average athlete in the National Football League, for instance, is 6'2" in height and nearly 247 pounds, versus the average man at 5'9" and 182 pounds.

Science has demonstrated a linkage between genes and IQ in twins, and new research has identified genes linked to leadership. One firm, BGI in China, is working to identify human intelligence.

Genetic testing to glean personal insights is also mainstream. People are interested in what genetic testing reveals about their health and ancestry. Science is certain to unlock more information from these genetic tests as time goes on.

If businesses come to believe that some employees are born predisposed to leadership, they may be interested in identifying people early in their careers who have the genes that may help them become the next great CEO, CIO or CFO. But one thing businesses can't do is to ask for a blood test.

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 prohibits employers from collecting this information. The law was motivated, in part, by concern that employers will use genetic test information to screen out job applicants who may be at risk for certain types of illnesses. A blood test may be unnecessary.

Businesses, using this understanding about how some characteristics are genetically determined, may develop new interview methodologies and testing to help identify candidates predisposed to the traits they desire, such as leadership.

Now that scientists know some characteristics are genetically driven, "we can move with a little more confidence and start modeling out what we think it might look like in ways that don't break the law," Smith said.

It's also possible that people may voluntarily turn over DNA to demonstrate that they have the key markers to succeed, said Furlonger. A CEO candidate, for instance, may give up his or her DNA in a job hunt, prompting others to act similarly.

"We should be cautious about this," said Smith.

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